In His Own Words: An Interview with Maulana Karenga

Beliefnet talks to the founder of the holiday, Dr. Maulana Karenga, about its origins, its aim and its future.

Continued from page 1

Also, as a celebration of family, community and culture, Kwanzaa is a time of ingathering of the people to reaffirm the bonds between them; a time of special reverence for the Creator, in thanks and respect for the blessings, bountifulness and beauty of creation; a time of commemoration of the past in pursuit of its lessons and in honor of its models of excellence, our ancestors; a time of recommitment to our highest cultural ideals in our ongoing efforts to be the best of what it means to be both African and human in the fullest sense; and a time for the celebration of the Good, the good of life and indeed, of existence, the good of the awesome and the ordinary, in a word, the good of the divine, the social and the natural. Who would find fault with these ethical practices?

Finally, Kwanzaa brings a cultural message which speaks to the best of what it means to be both African and human in its stress on four pillars of African ethics: the dignity and rights of the human person, the well-being and flourishing of family and community, the integrity and value of the environment, and the reciprocal solidarity and cooperation for mutual benefit of humanity. All these above emphases are ethical and at one level spiritual, but belong to no particular religion. And it is their inclusive character that allows people of good will to embrace them as essential elements of common ground for the common good.

Beliefnet: Is it possible for Kwanzaa to evolve into a more spiritual holiday than a cultural one? As of late, there is more of an interest in religion and spirituality among people in the United States. In some circles, it is thought that Kwanzaa is, therefore, becoming more of a spiritual holiday. Should Kwanzaa, as an African-American holiday change to reflect this development?

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Maulana Karenga: Kwanzaa must and will remain essentially a cultural holiday which celebrates family, community and culture, stresses the producing, harvesting and sharing good in the world and invites us to meditate seriously on the wonder, good and awesome responsibility of being African in the world.

Beliefnet: What are some things that Kwanzaa observers can do to avoid commercialization and strive towards Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)?

Maulana Karenga: See FAQs on the web site, www.OfficialKwanzaaWebsite.org or pp. 119-121 in my book, Kwanzaa, A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture, Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press.

Beliefnet: The nature and structure of the family has changed quite a bit since Kwanzaa was first created. Many young African-American adults of this day and age do not have the cultural background and foundation of the Civil Rights Era. Because of this, many don't necessarily have the impetus to celebrate with their families. How can parents and elders remedy this and effectively encourage their children to observe Kwanzaa?

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